‘Tate’s Avenue’ is a deeply metaphoric, allusion heavy work by Seamus Heaney that speaks on various relationships and their lasting impacts. The poem taps into themes of love, intimacy and memory.
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Summary of Tate’s Avenue
The poem takes the reader through three very different relationships the speaker engaged in. The first was fairly chaste and is compared to a tan and brown coloured rug, by the sea, with just a little fringe. In the second relationship, the speaker makes it clear their connection was more passionate, but also fleeting. The rug in this scenario is covered with food scraps left over from a picnic in Spain.
In the last memory, he brings the reader to a mundane, intimate scene in someone’s backyard. There, he recalls looking at his lover, admiring her moments and then moving together with her in perfect unity.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Tate’s Avenue
‘Tate’s Avenue’ by Seamus Heaney is a four stanza poem that’s separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme. But there are examples of half-rhyme, also known as partial or slant rhyme.
These are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “Belfast,” “silent” and “it,” all of which end lines in stanza three. Or, another example, “sea,” “breathing,” “land-breaths,” and “vestal” in lines one and two of the first stanza.
Poetic Techniques in Tate’s Avenue
Heaney makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Tate’s Avenue’. These include alliteration, caesura, enjambment, and The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “folds” and “folded” in line three of the first stanza and “Spread,” “sand” and “sea” in line two of the first stanza. Or, in the last line of the poem, the repetition of the “m” consonant sound in: “…moved I had your measure and you had mine”.
The next technique, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The third line of the first stanza and the second and third of the third stanza are good examples.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This technique is employed throughout ‘Tate’s Avenue’ but is at its best in the transitions between lines three and four of the first stanza, as well as that between lines two and three of the second.
Lastly, there is a metaphor. ‘Tate’s Avenue’ is a great example of an extended metaphor and how a writer can use allusions to suggest that one thing is another. In this case, Heaney uses rugs and their various attributes, to speak about personal, romantic relationships.
Analysis of Tate’s Avenue
In the first stanza of ‘Tate’s Avenue,’ the speaker begins with a negation. This is an unusual way to begin a piece of writing, but it immediately lets the reader know the speaker is going to discuss a few things before getting to the main topic of the poem. In this case, he’s not interested, not really, in speaking about the “brown and fawn car rug”. It played a role in his life, but it’s not the primary rug (and as is revealed later, relationship) he’s concerned with.
The “first” rug was the one that “Spread on the sand by the sea,” but rather than embracing the sea, maintained its “land-breaths”. It was bound in by land, unwilling to accept the sea. The strangeness of this description and its complicated association with relationships is continued in the next lines. Heaney’s speaker refers to the rug’s “vestal,” or chaste, “folds”. This rug/relationship was basic. In it, the speaker did not go outside of his comfort zone, nor did his partner exceed hers. This is made clear through the relatively straightforward depiction of it as “sepia-coloured” with “a fringe”.
The second stanza of ‘Tate’s Avenue’ begins with another negation. This time he’s informing the reader he isn’t interested in talking about another relationship, one defined by a “scraggy” rug. The rug is covered in bits and pieces of food, “crusts and eggshells” leftover from a picnic next to the “torrents of the Guadalquivir.” The “Guadalquivir” is an important river in the south of Spain. The speaker’s choice to add a specific setting into this depiction of a relationship suggests that the location was important.
Additionally, the use of words like “torrents” and “drunk” suggest to the reader this second relationship was quite different from the first. They got “drunk before the corrida,” or the bullfight. The fight itself may symbolize the contentious, or at least passionate and brief, nature of this relationship.
In the third stanza of ‘Tate’s Avenue,’ the speaker does not begin with a negation. This time he’s ready to get into the details of the relationship and rug he always meant to speak about from the beginning of the poem. “Instead,” he says, he wants to delve into memories of Tate’s Avenue, an address in Belfast, and a particular “Sunday”. He looks back at this time and remembers the “walled back yard, the dust-bins high and silent’ Already, this scene is different than the previous.
This stanza also allows the other person in the relationship to play a role. There is someone in the scene, the woman most likely, who’s twirling their “warm hair”. The woman is there, someone is reading, a “page is turned”. There is a rug present, as usual. This one does not give to the “ground beneath it”. This speaks to the solidity of this relationship, especially compared to the others.
In the final stanza, the speaker moves into the first person. He addresses his own presence in the scene, describing how he “lay at [his] length and felt the lumpy earth” beneath the rug. He was paying close attention to the scene, and the lumps beneath his body felt quite prominent. Despite this fact, he remained on the “plaid square,” unwilling to shift in case he lost the moment. The last line speaks, again, to the importance of this relationship. When he moved, he moved alongside his partner. Together they had one another’s “measure,” meaning, they were perfectly fit for one another.